Remember the lifeless and offensively incompetent Seton Hall team that took the floor against Rutgers last weekend?
That version of the Pirates was nowhere to be found on Thursday night.
Seton Hall locked in defensively for 40 minutes and garnered just enough offense to survive and secure itself a much-needed 52-48 signature win over No. 7 Maryland in its return to the Prudential Center.
After getting shredded by a Rutgers squad known more for its hard-nosed defense than explosive offense, Seton Hall altered its defensive gameplan to slow down a Maryland offense that entered the game averaging 77 points per game. The Pirates turned to a 2-3 zone despite Kevin Willard’s preference for running a man-to-man scheme and it paid off, as Maryland went 8:13 without scoring in the first half and endured a 1-16 cold stretch from the field throughout the drought that spanned nearly half of the first half. The Terrapins finished with a 27% mark from the field, 24% from beyond the arc and 17 turnovers.
“This is a good program win right here,” Quincy McKnight said. “We’re down an All-American and our starting power forward in Sandro. When we’re down two players like that, our two, leading scorers at the moment, it’s tough. We dug down and got a good program win.”
Seton Hall didn’t hesitate in bringing out its new-look defense, going zone right out of the gates. The Pirates led 7-4 by the under-16 timeout as Maryland struggled to find quality looks. With the Terrapins seldom finding the bottom of the net, Seton Hall ripped off a 13-3 run to give itself breathing room and a 15-7 lead by the under-eight timeout.
Offense remained hard to come by with Myles Powell (concussion) and Sandro Mamukelashvili (wrist) out, but Seton Hall slowed the pace and did enough to establish a comfortable lead while it continued to keep Maryland off the board. The Terrapins threatened to cut into Seton Hall’s lead with an Anthony Cowan Jr. three-pointer to make it a single-digit game late in the half, but a basket by Romaro Gill, who played a large role in Seton Hall’s defensive dominance with a career-high six blocked shots and a buzzer-beater by Anthony Nelson gave the Pirates a 27-18 advantage heading into halftime.
Maryland opened the second half with a Jalen Smith layup, but immediately went back to its anemic offensive ways as Seton Hall kept clicking on both ends of the floor. After the basket by Smith, the Pirates ripped off a 7-0 run highlighted by a beautiful outlet pass from Nelson to McKnight for a layup and a banked-in three-pointer by Jared Rhoden from the wing to make it 34-20.
McKnight was a force for Seton Hall on both ends of the floor throughout the night, dropping a season-high 17 points and doing everything in his power to limit Maryland star point guard Anthony Cowan to 16 points on 3-14 shooting.
“I watched a little of the game from last year and I just tried to keep to the principles I did last year,” McKnight said. “He’s improved a lot. His first step is really quick this year and he was shooting the ball at a really high clip from three his last couple of games. When it came down to it, it was time to key in. I was keyed in on him all game.”
Play stagnated for the next seven or so minutes, as both teams skidded offensively. Seton Hall endured a 2:41 scoring drought and 1-8 cold stretch from the field approaching the under-eight timeout, but still maintained a 38-29 lead.
Smith cut Seton Hall’s lead to seven with 7:30 remaining at the free-throw line, but a 6-0 spurt by the Pirates punctuated by a McKnight and-one and a tough finish by Myles Cale at the run pushed the lead back to 43-31 with 6:11 remaining and prompted a Maryland timeout.
Maryland refused to go away after the brief Seton Hall run, cutting the Pirates’ lead to 43-36 on a Cowan three with 4:16 remaining. Cowan forced a McKnight turnover coming out of a Seton Hall timeout, but turned the ball over himself on Maryland’s ensuing offensive possession. McKnight made up for his give away with another and-one to put Seton Hall up 10 with just over three minutes left to go.
Maryland turned to a press after the bucket by McKnight, forced a couple of turnovers and got back into the game at the charity stripe. Two Smith free throws with 1:24 remaining made it 47-42, giving Seton Hall its slimmest lead since the early minutes of the first half. Nelson delivered following a timeout to make it 49-42 with a tough finish at the rim, but Maryland fought back once again to make it 49-46 with 35.8 seconds on the clock.
Nelson came up big once again with Maryland inbounding, as the sophomore picked off a Terrapins pass and was subsequently fouled. He missed the front-end of a one-and-one, but bounced back at the line after a Seton Hall defensive stop, going 1-2 to put the Pirates up 50-46 with 10 seconds left.
“I thought Anthony was exactly what I’ve been envisioning with him,” coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s someone I can give the ball to. He can make plays. I thought he was great off misses with the tempo and I thought Ant was really good with the fact that we wanted to use a lot of clock. I wasn’t going to be worried if we had three or four shot-clock violations. He understood what we wanted to start our possessions 18 seconds into the shot-clock. I thought he managed that tremendously.”
Nelson fouled Cowan on a three-point attempt at the other end and Maryland’s senior point guard went 2-3 at the free-throw line to make it 50-48. Rhoden secured the rebound following Cowan’s miss on his final attempt and McKnight drilled two free throws with 1.1 seconds left to fend off a ferocious Maryland comeback and emerge victoriously.
“A lot of people were doubting us and saying our season’s going away,” Rhoden said. “I think tonight stamped us and showed what we’re made of.”
-Ike Obiagu turned in the best performance of his Seton Hall career with five blocked shots and a lot of activity on both ends of the floor. That’s what Kevin Willard and company have been waiting for him to contribute all season.
-Quincy McKnight left everything he had on the floor on Thursday night. He had a different look in his eye from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
“Q has answered the bell since he stepped on campus,” Willard said.
That’s what senior leadership is all about. Credit to McKnight for stepping up in arguably Seton Hall’s most important game of the non-conference slate.
-12 rebounds from Jared Rhoden. A much-needed bounce-back performance for the sophomore after a rough game at Rutgers.
-Kevin Willard’s willingness to stray away from his typical man-to-man defensive scheme came as a bit of a surprise, but boy did his decision to go zone pay off. Plenty of people criticized Willard not adjusting against Rutgers last weekend. He certainly got the job done in that area against Maryland.
-Seton Hall now has the signature win many feared it would end non-conference play without. That should ease some of the doubts many have about the Pirates once they conclude their out of conference schedule against Prarie View A&M on Sunday.
“I think the way they bounced back from Saturday and the way they attacked this week with a business-like attitude and a humble attitude to get ready for this game will go farther than any win will.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.